The relationship between climate change and tourism is twofold: climate change impacts on tourism and tourism impacts on climate change. The first relationship may ask for adaptation measures, like shifting destinations, seasons, and activities and investing in new air conditioning systems. The second relationship may ask for mitigation measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This paper evaluates the magnitude of the impact of tourism on climate change and looks at mitigation measures and adaptation to mitigation.

The NTP observes that the impact of tourism activities on climate change is not very evenly distributed over the different kinds of tourism. The main determinants are the distance between the destination and the homes of the tourists, the transport mode choice, and the length of stay. It finds that:


  • The tourism and travel sector currently contributes a higher share to climate change than (directly) to the global economy and is thus a relatively eco-inefficient sector with respect to global warming
  • The tourism and travel sector is developing a higher dependency on high energy transport and activities and more luxurious accommodations, thus further decreasing eco-efficiency
  • Air transport causes an increasing share of all tourism & travel related global warming, a share that is currently already over 60 percent
  • Most tourism trips are relatively eco-efficient as 80 percent of the trips (by rail, coach, and car) cause just about 20 percent of the GHG emissions
  • Individuals travelers are faced with more choices for increasing their personal contribution to global warming per travel day than options to reduce this personal contribution
  • Technology for reducing GHG emissions and increasing energy efficiency offers the best opportunities for tourist accommodation and rail transport. For road transport, fuel efficiency and alternative fuels remain the best solution, apart from a modal shift to rail
  • Further prospects for increasing fuel efficiency of air transport are relatively low because the technology of jet aircraft is already more or less mature. Alternative fuels will not be introduced on a large scale within the next three to five decades unless strong government incentives are given.
  • The sector is exposed to numerous direct and indirect impacts from climate change. Sea-level rise and more acidic oceans will threaten coastal tourism infrastructure and natural attractions. Rising temperatures will shorten winter sports seasons and threaten the viability of some ski resorts. Climate change will lead to changes in biodiversity, affecting eco-tourism.
  • Adaptation options exist, but many are likely to add costs and offer only short-term relief. Locations at risk can invest in more resilient infrastructure. However, under scenarios that see high emissions, and higher temperatures, questions exist as to whether adaptation is possible at all.
  • The contribution of tourism to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are rising and is projected to grow 130% between 2005 and 2035.
  • There is considerable uncertainty about how tourists will respond to the effects of climate change. CENT research provides much detail on likely impacts, and on possible changes in tourism demand. These changes are likely to create opportunities at both the destination and business levels.